Sherri Papini’s visage was everywhere for weeks. The little blond woman with large blue eyes and a bright smile was shown on every programme and was widely shared on social media. The streets of Redding, California, were strewn with missing posters. When Papini reappeared on Thanksgiving Day 2016, wounded but alive, it felt like a miracle.
What followed was an unlikely storey that FBI agents now claim was an intricate fabrication — one that landed Papini in jail.
Keith Papini arrived home from work on Nov. 2, 2016, to discover his Mountain Gate home was vacant. There are no children and no wife. A cursory examination revealed that his two children had simply not been picked up from day care. However, using his wife’s phone’s “find my iPhone” app revealed that it was somewhere near Sunrise Drive, where Sherri had gone for a run earlier that day.
He travelled to the location and discovered her phone and earbuds neatly left in the dirt about 2 feet off the road. Their wedding song — Michael Buble’s “Everything” — was playing on repeat on the phone. He “believed the cellphone had been planted,” according to an unsealed FBI document.
According to investigators, this was merely the beginning of the strangeness.
When authorities probed into the 34-year-personal old’s life, they discovered a series of abnormalities. According to the affidavit, two men were discovered among Sherri Papini’s phone contacts, although they were listed under female names. In 2011, one man travelled to visit Papini, and the couple allegedly “continued to exchange romantic text messages throughout the years.” The second man told police that he met Papini around 2000 at a Friday Night Live youth activity and the two dated for a while afterwards. He claimed Papini was “attention-seeking” and “made allegations about being abused by her family, father, and subsequently [him] following the couple’s breakup.”
Papini was hounded by rumours of attention-seeking conduct in interview after interview. When the director of the Friday Night Live programme was interviewed by detectives, he allegedly stated that Papini “was skilled at constructing alternate realities for people in order for them to see what she desired, which garnered her considerable attention.” Even friends admitted Papini “would fabricate stories, notably about being a victim of abuse, particularly as a child,” according to the affidavit.
Papini reappeared three weeks after her absence, on Thanksgiving Day 2016. Officers from the California Freeway Patrol rushed to Interstate 5 in Woodland following numerous 911 calls reporting a lady wandering onto the highway. That would be Sherri Papini. Her hair had been chopped off in parts, she wore a chain around her waist, she had lost weight from her already small body, and she was covered in bruises, burns, rashes, and an odd mark on her right shoulder.
Multiple interviews with Papini are detailed in the affidavit. Although the details vary from one to the other, her general storey was as follows:
She’d gone for a jog on the day of her disappearance. She observed a dark-colored SUV occupied by two “Hispanic” women. One woman beckoned her over, as if in need of assistance with something. Papini stated that as she approached, one woman grabbed a revolver on her, and Papini left her phone behind as proof before entering the vehicle. Despite the abduction’s trauma, Papini told FBI officials that she slept for the majority of the drive and had no idea where she was taken. She allegedly told investigators that she “does not recall exiting the vehicle; the first thing she recalls is waking up in a room.” She was wearing zip ties around her wrists and had changed out of her running clothing.” Papini made no allegations of being drugged, although she did inquire at one point whether being tazed might impair her memory; investigators informed her that this was highly improbable.
Papini claimed that during her confinement, the two ladies spoke mostly Spanish and played continual loud music from a speaker outside her sealed chamber. Despite this, she stated that “anytime she made a sound, her captors ran into her room.” Papini stated that one woman informed her that they intended to “sell” her to “a cop.”
Papini stated that after three weeks, for unclear reasons, the younger of the two abductors ordered Papini back into the SUV and drove her to Woodland, where she was discovered by good Samaritans.
While Papini was recovering in the hospital, deputies from the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office submitted her clothing to a laboratory for DNA testing. In September 2019, the DNA profile of an unknown male identified on her clothing was submitted for familial testing, a process that searches databases for possible family relatives. One such match was discovered, leading detectives to Papini’s ex-boyfriend.
The ex-boyfriend agreed to a police interview on Aug. 10, 2020. He instantly admitted to assisting Papini in fleeing, according to the FBI document. According to the affidavit, the ex-boyfriend, whom Papini had known since they were teenagers, claimed she contacted him “out of the blue” and stated “her spouse was beating and raping her, and she was attempting to flee.” The ex-boyfriend allegedly told detectives he travelled from his Southern California home to Redding on Nov. 2, 2016, to meet Papini following her morning jog. He stated she slept the majority of the way south in the Dodge Challenger’s back seat.
The ex-boyfriend told detectives that Papini stayed in his apartment for weeks, eating very little, cutting her own hair, and, toward the end of her stay, wanting him to brand her with a crafting instrument acquired at Hobby Lobby, according to the affidavit. Eventually, the ex-boyfriend stated that he drove Papini back to Redding, dumping her off as she directed. According to the affidavit, cell phone records from both Papini and her ex-boyfriend corroborate his recollection of events, and the couple communicated via prepaid phones throughout.
Investigators then returned to Papini’s home to question her again, according to the affidavit. She was repeatedly advised that lying to federal agents is a crime, and the FBI reported that she repeated her earlier storey of being abducted by two Hispanic women and denying meeting up with her ex. Papini, now 39 years old, was arrested on Thursday and charged with mail fraud and lying to a federal agent.
Additionally, the affidavit claims that a GoFundMe page established for the family raised $49,070, which was allegedly used to pay the Papinis’ credit card bills and “personal expenses.” Additionally, FBI investigators allege that Papini applied for and received more than $30,000 in fraudulent compensation from the California Victim Compensation Board to cover the cost of blinds for her home, an ambulance ride, and therapy sessions.
Papini’s family has categorically denied the allegations in a statement released Friday via a publicist.
“We adore Sherri and are appalled by the way law enforcement ambushed her (Thursday) afternoon in front of her children,” the family said.
Papini is being held at the Sacramento County Main Jail pending her next court appearance.